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Families 'still in dark over future of speech unit'

By Brendan McDaid

Children attending a specialist language unit are being left in the dark over whether it will still be open in 2013, it has been claimed.

Derry City Council wants a meeting with the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) over the fate of Woodlands speech and language unit.

The unit, used by pupils with specific language difficulties from all primary schools in the city, is under threat as it is within the grounds of a special school.

WELB has stated that as such, the unit at Belmont Special School should not be accessed by a child without a statement of special needs.

Parents received letters in February 2012 stating that the unit was to close in the 2012/13 academic year.

It sparked a massive protest which saw Foyle MLAs uniting to front a campaign and 20,000 people signing a petition urging Education Minister John O’Dowd to keep the unit open.

At this week’s meeting of the Regional Development Committee, SDLP Councillor Brenda Stevenson said that the future remained uncertain for families with children at the unit.

Calling for clarity on the issue, she said: “Kids are going back to this unit as the new term starts and parents don’t know where they are going to be next year. It’s not acceptable. Parents were informed that the consultation process was opening in September. We are no further forward.”

A WELB spokeswoman yesterday confirmed it was still proposing to relocate the speech and language classes at Woodlands to mainstream schools in the north west area, and that for the moment the children were still attending Woodlands.

She said: “Children who attend the speech and language classes at Woodlands are enrolled in mainstream schools in the north west area and attend the facility for four days per week, in most cases. In this regard, the children are not pupils who are enrolled in Belmont House School.

“The same model of service delivery will continue with one day per week in mainstream and four days per week in the language class.

“Specialist provision for children who require more intensive speech and language interventions will continue. Pre-consultation on the relocation commenced last term.

“Board officers met with the board of governors, staff and parents in relation to the proposed relocation of the speech and language classes at that time.

“The board will recommence engagement with relevant stakeholders in the near future regarding the formal consultation process.

“The final decision will be made by the minister within the Depart-ment of Education.”

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